In an effort to woo voters and win control of the Minnesota Legislature, Republican leaders on Monday announced a "Contract to Open Minnesota."
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, and House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, pledged to loosen Gov. Tim Walz's COVID-19 restrictions if voters give them the majority in the House and help them retain their majority in the Senate.
“We trust the people of Minnesota to keep safe and keep others safe,” Gazelka said Monday in a news conference announcing the contract, according to the Star Tribune.
The contract includes:
- Reopening all schools (currently, local districts can decide what to do, but they have to follow state guidance)
- Allowing sports and activities to resume and letting local schools determine how many people can attend games (currently, some fans are allowed to attend indoor games)
- Eliminating "one-size-fits-all" restrictions on bars and restaurants by allowing business owners to take precautions they feel appropriate (currently, capacity restrictions are at 50% for these businesses)
"Every one of these we believe we can do safely," Gazelka said, according to KSTP. "But as we think about it, think about the fact we now trust Minnesotans to look at the data, look at the science, follow the CDC guidelines and live their lives in all these different areas."
This comes as the number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths in Minnesota are rising, and the number of cases in Minnesota's schools climbs, forcing some schools to switch back to full distance learning.
The Minnesota Department of Health on Monday reported 1,632 new positive cases of COVID-19 and five more people dying, bringing the total number of positive cases to 124,439 and 2,239 deaths.
While the contract lists things Republicans believe should be reopened further, it doesn't offer anything for COVID-19 mitigation This is in line with how the GOP has previously said they'd respond to the virus, with Gazelka saying there wouldn't be a mask mandate, testing would focus on long-term care facilities, and there wouldn't be limits on crowd sizes, among other things, the Star Tribune reported.
Republicans have stressed that we're no longer in an emergency and have been pushing to end Gov. Walz's emergency powers for months, previously pointing to states like Wisconsin as an example of how to respond to the virus without executive orders and placing restrictions on businesses.
Wisconsin, though, is now grappling with a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in what's being called the worst coronavirus outbreak in the country. And political science experts say the state's politics are partly to blame – the Republicans control the legislature and have continued to block Democratic Gov. Tony Evers' measures aimed at containing the virus.
Walz's initial response to the Republican's proposed contract was, “Maybe they found the cure for COVID while I was gone down here," he said while touring a farm to announce federal COVID-19 aid for farmers, according to WCCO. The governor added that he doesn't want to see what happened in Wisconsin where an overflow hospital has been set up on the state fairgrounds.
A later statement from the governor's office to WCCO said he'll work with anyone to fight the virus, but abandoning safety precautions isn't the right way to go. Here's the full statement:
"Gov. Walz will work with anyone to fight the virus, including Republicans in the state legislature. But as COVID-19 deaths continue to climb, he encourages them to take the pandemic seriously. A one-page plan to abandon all safety precautions is not a serious strategy to slow the spread or rebuild the economy."
Meanwhile, the Minnesota DFL Party is slamming Republicans for their plan that would allow businesses to reopen without any capacity restrictions, social distancing or masking requirements. Here's the statement from DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin:
“Make no mistake, the Minnesota Republican Party’s plan to entirely ignore COVID-19 is going to get people killed. Republican leaders like Donald Trump, Paul Gazelka, Kurt Daudt, and Jennifer Carnahan have already exposed Minnesotans to COVID-19 through their reckless campaigning and this plan will only make things worse.
“Today’s (Monday's) announcement amounts to little more than a contract on Minnesota. If Republicans win in 15 days, COVID-19 cases will spike, hospitals will be overwhelmed, and more Minnesotans will lose their lives to the coronavirus. This is the last thing Minnesota voters want, especially at a time when cases are already spiking across our state.”